Litmus Test: 1. A crucial and revealing test in which there is one decisive factor.   2. A test that uses a single indicator to prompt a decision.

I wasn’t planning on posting again until next week but, in light of some of the personal responses I received this week because of my last two posts (I Visited A Church Today, and 15 Theses), I decided it best not to put it off.  Something I learned last week is that though it’s sometimes good to play the provocateur, it only works if its clear that that is in fact what you’re doing, and then you better clarify quickly where you stand on an issue.  Since all of the discussions that revealed my full position on the Theseshappened off the blog rather than in the comments, I’ll give a response now.

Wolfgang Simson made some provocative statements about church reforms (some I agree with in spirit), but some I do not (as I stated in the post).  I was asked to give a clearer position on where I stand on some issues (what I perceived to be a “litmus test”), as to where I stand in the faith, and regarding clergy and church life.  I’ve never been fond of such “tests”, but I’m willing to do so for the sake of clarity (and salvage my reputation amongst the head hunters).  I’ll be plain and direct.  

I am not anti-institutional church.  But I am anti-“Tradition of The Elders” (what Jesus referred to as religious rules taught by men but passed off as the commandments of God).  I’m against it because Jesus was against it.  Jesus was against it because they presented stumbling blocks to true worship and often misrepresented the heart of the Father toward his people and those who were searching.  Tradition is good however, when it aids us in worship, and also when it protects from ungodly cultural influences and false doctrines that threaten the church.  Some of the traditions passed down from the “Church Fathers” were pragmatic responses to legitimate threats to the orthodoxy of the Faith.  But when our traditions interfere with our worship, or no longer serve their intended purpose, then we should be open to innovations.  However, it can be difficult for some to distinguish between the Commands of God, and modern day versions of the Traditions of The Elders.  That isn’t a negative criticism, just an observation.  

I am not anti-Pastor, but I am anti-rigid clericalism where church leaders take on the role of “priests” creating a huge clergy/laity divide where they are content to minister to a passive congregation (and the people content to have it so), when they are called to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry”.  This equipping does not mean training for ushers, filling communion trays, and raising up volunteers for church programs (though the church may indeed need servers who do these things), but equipping for the ministry as fellow priests, ministering to “One Another” according to their gifts and abilities by the grace God has given to each.  I am decidedly for Church Elders (overseers) such as these .  There is no Calling I respect more (except maybe good parents;-) than church elders who preach the Gospel and lead in this manner, and they should be honored.  

I do not believe that “house churches” are the biblical mandated way of “doing” church, though some do prefer it.  In fact, some of the views within the the house church movement (though not all), and Emergent churches, regarding preaching and authority, concern me.  Nevertheless, the small group advantage some of these expressions provide, is important.  They provide the forum through which a church can grow more connected the way a body actually “assembles”, providing nourishment to each part of the body, and thereby becoming more Christlike as they learn to build up “One Another” in love.   The reformer, Martin Luther, expressed a desire that an alternative service be formed for those who wanted to meet in this fashion, but never made such reforms because in his words he did not think the people wanted it, nor did he have the men capable of leading them: 

“The right kind of evangelical order cannot be exhibited among all sorts of people, but those who are seriously determined to be Christians and confess the gospel with hand and mouth, must enroll themselves by name and meet apart in one house, for prayer, for reading, to baptize, to take the Sacrament, and exercise other Christian works. With such order it would be possible for those who did not behave in a Christian manner to be known, reproved, restored, or excluded, according to the rule of Christ (Matt. 18:15). Here also they could, in common, subscribe alms, which would be willingly given and distributed among the poor, according to the example of Paul (2 Cor. 9:1-12). Here it would not be necessary to have much or fine singing. Here a short and simple way of baptism and the Sacrament could be practiced, and all would be according to the Word and in love. But I cannot yet order and establish such an assembly…In the meantime I will call, excite, preach, help forward it, until Christians take the Word so in earnest, that they will themselves find how to do it and continue in it.” – Reformer Martin Luther-1526 

The obvious solution: Train leaders who are capable and then allow them to lead those who do wish to meet in this fashion.  Do not forbid Innovative or Simple Churches, but rather raise them up as a means of strengthening the body, and when appropriate, recognize them as legitimate expressions of “Church”.  And nor should we tear down the institutional church but rather draw from their resources and continue to add to the spiritual health of the body.

An old friend of mine, who is an elder in his church back east, suggested that a good place to start is to define what is a local church.  I like the description of a local church community that Mark Driscoll gives in his book Vintage Faith

“The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and Communion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy.”

Regarding a “litmus Test” for defining a “Church”, For me, this is the “One decisive factor”:  A community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

Mark, a reformed pastor in Seattle (who also believes that all of the gifts of the spirit are for today’s church) leads a large “institutional” church, with small groups (led by many who have, and could be pastoring their own churches).  His ministry has planted  numerous missional churches around the world, and he goes on to say that there is “confusion because nowhere in the New Testament does church in any of its forms refer to a building”.  (Hmmm, he can’t be anti-institutional).  He quotes Wayne Grudem, a leading respected Bible scholar:  

A “house church” is called a “church” in Romans 16:5 (greet also the church in their house“), 1Corinthians 16:19 (“Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord”).  The church in an entire city is also called “a church” (1Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; and Thess. 1:1).  The church in a region is referred to as a “church” in Acts 9:31: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up.”  Finally, the church throughout the entire world can be referred to as “the church.”  Paul says, “Christ so loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25) and says, “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…” (1 Cor. 12:28)….We may conclude that the group of God’s people considered at any level from local to universal may rightly be called “a church.” – Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine

This is introductory stuff; nothing “deep”, or radical, or anti-anything.  Just  basic Bible doctrine.  

Hopefully this gives you a clearer picture of where I’m coming from.  I’m not seeking to play the iconoclast and tear down our institutions, but the Kingdom of God really is at hand, and although I am Theologically Conservative, I am also Culturally Innovative, and I believe in being missionally creative.  I want to be a part of what Jay Tolson in his article, A Return to Tradition described as “…innovative returns to tradition….a means of moving beyond fundamentalist literalism, troubling authority figures, and highly politicized religious positions…while retaining a hold on spiritual truths”.  Is this easy?  No.  Sometimes messy?  You bet.  Mistakes are made, but its worth pushing the boundaries for the sake of others and their stake in the Kingdom of God.  Especially when those boundaries are mostly in our hearts and in our heads.  

Well, I took the litmus test (and maybe presented one as well?).  Ultimately, God is our judge and he knows our hearts; and what matters most is “faith working in love”.  And as the second definition says, a litmus test also “prompts a decision”.  Have you been “prompted”? 

Peace,

Roc

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